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Craigslist 101: From a mom’s perspective

After I featured my second-hand home on Family Sponge and Design Mom, I received a variety of comments regarding my love for Craigslist. Some people were totally on board and shared stories about things they have scored, while others shared their fear about it. Four years ago, I remember going on my first Craigslist adventure and all the emotions that went along with it. Now, with at least 250 Craigslist interactions under my belt, I would like to share with you what I have personally experienced and maybe give you some tips if you are thinking of giving it a shot.

I should state: I am by no means a Craigslist expert. I am just a mom who loves a good deal.

about craigslistCraig Newmark with his adorable grandson

WHAT IS CRAIGSLIST?:

In 1995, Craig Newmark was working at Schwab and he started Craigslist as an email list for friends and co-workers about events going on in the San Francisco Bay Area. What started as a fun side project in Craig’s living room has since grown into one of the busiest sites on the internet, helping people with basic day-to-day needs such as finding a job, a couch and a date, all within a culture of trust.

about craigslist

HOW TO USE IT

Craigslist can be a little overwhelming when you first check it out. Yet if your goal is to score some fun items for your home, then Craigslist is actually very simple. Check out the image above and follow along with the numbers for a quick overview:

1. LOCATION: Make sure you are in the right location— you can even narrow it down to your county if you aren’t willing to drive far. On the far right side, you can change your service area (not pictured).

2. CATEGORIES: You can click right on the “for sale” button if you want to browse all the items listed for sale. You can even click on the sub-categories beneath if you want to narrow down your browsing— sometimes I find great things this way (like a vase or a desk).

3. SEARCH: If you know exactly what you want just type it in here. I would be pretty specific on my first search: “Pottery Barn white pedestal kitchen table.” If it doesn’t return anything worthwhile, then I would be more general: “white kitchen table.” If that doesn’t return many results and I am up for painting and possibly refinishing a piece, I would just search “table.”

*Word of advice: I only use Craigslist for buying home furniture, kids toys, home decor, strollers, bikes, house plants and art supplies. It helps me find garage sales, and I have even sold a car on it. People warn me about the “crazies on Craigslist”, but I haven’t met them. I think they hang out in the jewelry, electronics, dating and the services sections. Not home decor and baby items. So just think about what it is you are buying and if a sane person would be selling it and for that price.

MAKING THE CALL

Once you find an item that you want, you have to contact them personally. Typically I email them as my first step of contact, unless they specifically say “call or text me.” My emails usually go something like this:


In my email, I first ask if the item is still available. Then I ask if they would go down on the price to what I was hoping to pay. And to save a few emails, I let them know when I would be able to come by. If I have any questions about it I ask here as well, such as “I have two little kids and was wondering if the item has been around any pets or smoke?” or “How are the drawers? Do they slide out nicely or are there any issues that I should be aware of?” I also like to include that my husband will be coming with me— just makes me feel a little safer.

If they reply that the item is still available, then we conversate about time/place to pick it up. Most cases, you will be driving to someone’s home to get it. Yet sometimes you can orchestrate meeting somewhere in public for smaller items. I like to pick Starbucks— it’s my happy place. I usually give them my phone number and also get theirs at this point— I like to call when I am on my way to give them a heads up and also to make sure they will be around.

PICKING UP THE ITEM

It is much easier and safer to have a sidekick with you when you pick up the furniture. And sometimes it is necessary if the furniture is heavy and you have to get it down a flight of stairs (happens ALL the time!). I also make sure to have the exact amount of cash I am paying for the item in my hand so I don’t have to bring in my purse.

When you get to the house, more than likely you will be going inside to look at the item. This is normal, so don’t have an anxiety attack. I then check out the item as much as possible— open all the drawers, check underneath, use it, etc. You gotta make sure it functions before you buy it. If everything looks good and feel good about it— you pay. (I count out the money as I hand it to them). I also check for animals, cleanliness and cigarettes. Sometimes these factors don’t sway me at all— if the price is right and the piece can be cleaned— I’ll still get it.

If there are concerns and it isn’t really what you want, you can say sorry and walk away. Other times, I have said “It’s really not what I thought— the drawers need some work and there are scratches I couldn’t see from the pictures. I like it, but I don’t think it is worth $100. Would you take $50 for it, since I am gonna have to spend a lot of time fixing it up?”

Sometimes they will agree to the lower price and other times they won’t. Yet you tried, right?

There will be times when the item is 1000 times better than you thought and you want to do cartwheels. DON’T! They may catch on and realize they underpriced their item. Keep a poker face until you get the treasure into your car and drive away. Then I usually start dancing and calling my friends to brag about the deal of the century.

THE FOLLOW-UP

Sometimes, the owner and I connect and have been known to hang out for half an hour or so just talking. This is my favorite part about Craigslist— getting to know the people behind the furniture I buy. When this is the case, I like to email them afterwards saying thanks. It’s hard to let go of some items and it helps people feel better knowing they went to a good home where they are appreciated.

CRAIGSLIST ETIQUETTE

1. SAY HELLO: In your emails, say hello and write in complete sentences. You would be surprised how many people just write “is it available?”. No hello, no name, nothing. It’s crazy! These are families, young married couples, teachers, students, etc on the other end of that ad— so please treat them like people. Just please say hello and sign with your name — it’s simple, but goes along way.

2. BARGAIN UP FRONT: Do all the bargaining beforehand (during the initial emails/phone calls). You should know what price you are paying when you get to their house. It isn’t cool to try to lowball at the last minute (unless the item isn’t what you thought).

3. RESPECT THEIR HOME: Be courteous when in their home— if they don’t wear shoes inside, take yours off. And please don’t bring your dog with you.

4. HAVE HELP: Bring people to help lift the furniture. Craigslist is absolutely team work— everyone chips in. You can’t expect them to sell their furniture for dirt cheap AND lift it for you— just not cool.

FURNITURE TIPS

Lunchbreath made this awesome chart– it is quite funny, but actually holds a lot of truth. It might actually help you find what you are looking for and read between the lines.

WHAT DO YOU DO WITH YOUR KIDS?

I am a stay-at-home/work-from-home mom, which means my kids get to join me on my Craigslist adventures. When I pull up to a house, I tell them to stay in their carseats and I occasionally give them a special snack to hold them over for a few minutes. Then I lock the truck and head inside the house. I check the item fast and come back out to check on the kids. I just explain to the owner my situation and they are always very helpful. Sometimes that means they move the item for me so I can stay with the kids. Other times I have to help load it and my kids just stay in the truck. Either way, the kids don’t usually go into the house (or even leave the truck.). There are a few occasional when it is a really cool house and very nice people. Then we make friends and hang out for a little bit. You can just feel if it is right.

Sounds crazy, right? But it is true. One of my dearest friends is someone I met on Craigslist. She posted an ad for some free wood shutters and I wanted to check them out (we just bought our first home and it was a fixer upper). Turned out she lived down the street— so I pushed the kids in our stroller to her house. I didn’t end up getting the shutters, but I did get a great friend.

AVOIDING THE SCAMS

Occasionally you will respond to a bogus Craigslist posting. A scammer posted an ad that is too good to be true in an effort to snag your email address. It’s rare, but it happens. So that just means you could end up getting some spam mail that usually involves lots of typos and mentions Nigeria. Don’t respond, just ignore it. It goes away with time. If this really bothers you, create a new email account just for Craigslist interactions (I don’t do this).

FELLOW CRAIGSLISTERS:

Any tips or advice you could share? What sort of experiences have you had on Craigslist?

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24 Responses to Craigslist 101: From a mom’s perspective

  1. Jadah January 30, 2012 at 4:12 pm #

    When I was living in Kauai, I sold a baby bumbo seat. The person who bought it ended up being one my best friends. I love how Craigslist brings people face to face to exchange and barter for goods. Giving purpose to used items is super eco-friendly and just smart. If you buy something second-hand it retains it’s value because you bought it at it’s second-hand price. There is a new site that is supposed to be the reverse of Craigslist called, http://www.Ubokia.com. I’m curious to try it out.

    • Matt January 31, 2012 at 6:35 pm #

      Jadah,

      Thanks for mentioning Ubokia. We actually founded Ubokia out of frustration with Craigslist and eBay. Our whole premise is about empowering buyers. We think we have a pretty cool site and so far we’ve grown a lot faster than we thought, but we really would love as much feedback as possible. Please feel free to send over any thoughts or recommendations on how we can make it better.

      Thanks!

    • Kam February 11, 2012 at 6:15 am #

      hahah… nloepry is a robot. I’m not going to waste my time talking to a robot.yeah, no reply suck. 🙂

  2. Popo Joy February 2, 2012 at 8:18 pm #

    I heart Craigslist too! I have to admit I have even been an obsessive user at times.

    • familysponge February 3, 2012 at 7:18 am #

      That makes two of us. 🙂 -Jen

  3. Donna Amis Davis August 13, 2012 at 7:27 pm #

    Wow. Thanks for this post. We are gearing up to return to the U.S. after many many years living overseas, and will have to furnish our house almost from scratch. This is super helpful. Love even the specific tips about your email interaction with the seller initially.

    Also loved your post about how your furnished your house in Florida. It’s just lovely. The couches! The rug! I’m inspired and encouraged after seeing how you did it. We won’t have a TV either. Maybe eventually, but I don’t know.

  4. Arianna Carlson February 15, 2013 at 8:11 am #

    I’m seeing this for the first time and had to chime in…

    I love Craigslist!

    I have been using it since its early days and I can say that I have sold things, bought things, found jobs, bought a business, rented apartments, leased my apartment, hired cleaners, adopted kittens, bought my home and FOUND my husband all on Craigslist.

    One stop shopping, if you ask me. 🙂

    • Family Sponge February 24, 2013 at 1:41 pm #

      No way?! A husband?!I have to hear this story. Sounds like we keep finding more in common.

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